Two-time track and field champion at Appalachian State College, Tammy Sawyer had all the right moves when she graduated early to pursue teaching. In January 1986, she began a career at a local elementary school. By summer, she had landed her dream job — high school teacher and varsity basketball coach. But before school began, a car accident shattered that dream, destroying Tammy’s vocal cords and the part of her brain that controls mobility. For the next 17 years, she and her mother, Betty, lived together in their family home.
“I was so worried that Tammy would not be able to take care of herself if something unexpected happened to me,” said Betty, age 66. A social worker recommended Volunteers of America Carolina’s Life House in Asheville, N.C., an affordable and supportive apartment complex for people with limited physical mobility and disabilities. So Betty sold her home in 2004 and moved into a two-bedroom apartment at Life House as Tammy’s caregiver.
“This place has been a lifesaver for Tammy,” Betty said. From cabinet doors and bathroom sinks to computers and exercise equipment, the entire facility is accessible for people with special needs. Using an electric wheelchair, Tammy maneuvers alone through the building and courtyard to participate in activities. She has also found her voice at Life House. Despite her portable assistive speaking device, she often talks and laughs without it. In fact, she has shared her thoughts with the mayor’s council about issues affecting those with disabilities.
Armed with greater self-confidence, Tammy is determined to teach again. She hopes to purchase a more sophisticated speaking device, and apply for a grant to help build an adaptive room where she could teach at her former school.
With Life House’s nurturing and adaptive environment, Tammy’s independence is secured long into the future.